No, this isn’t about a rock group or Peter Wankelmann….
Italian football. Two words in which everyone has a view on. It could be skill, flair, passion, diving, Ultras, Luca Vialli, Zola, defensive football or corruption. Sometimes, all of it at once.
I’ll be honest here. Until pretty recently, I never gave much thought to Italian football. Sure, I enjoyed watching it when nothing else was on, but it never really grabbed me. Whether it was because it just wasn’t “my” thing, I don’t know. But a trip to the big stadia on the Med was never part of my travel itinary.
Until I found myself in Milan, or Milano if you prefer. Home of fashion, art, and a couple of football teams to boot. Needless to say, I fitted in perfectly with the well dressed, sophisticated locals. Naturally, I attempted intelligent conversational discourse in their native tongue. Shame they all replied in English….
Whilst I enjoyed the food and drink (the quality, not the price or portion sizes), my favourite was the telly. Anyone who’s seen it will know what I mean when I say it should be shown in England (do Sky really need 4 zillion Asian channels?). Just imagine about 3 or 4 stations at the same time discussing football. And not for a few minutes as a token gesture either. Now, in case it gets boring, they put some, ahem, shapely donna standing in the background. She doesn’t actually do a lot, but I’m not sure that matters. And these women aren’t exactly scrubbers like Helen Chamberlain either…..
Now, usually there isn’t much of a backdrop to my reports (with the exception of Cork v Derry). Most are run-of-the-mill. This game was different. It was the last day of Serie A, and helpfully Milan were still in with a very slight chance of beating Juve for the title. The fact that AC were playing Roma did at least ensure that you would read about two teams you’d heard of. There’s no need to give you a little background to either side’s history. I will assume you know that when he’s not paying off British ministers’ mortgages (allegedly), the president of AC Milan used to be the Prime Minster of Italy.
What I didn’t plan on was walking into the biggest football scandal to hit Italy in over 20 years. Every news bulletin led with it (and not on the once-off either, for the four days I was there it was constantly the lead story). Had Berlusconi and Prodi been caught in a gay daisy chain in the middle of the Duomo, it wouldn’t have displaced the goings on with Moggi….
There was a bit of a feeling of “about time too” in all of this. Remember those suspicions you had after it was found that Fash and Hans Segers might have been involved in some iffy stuff? Suffice to say, after Juve’s performance against Arsenal in the CL, you do start to wonder….
Anyway, on this warm day in Lombardy, I set off my journey at Milan’s Centrale station. Inconsequencial, you may think. Not quite, as I managed to see the coppers intercept a group of Roma fans who had just got off an Intercity. You would now expect a tale of a massive clash between the two, sending travellers scurrying and poor innocent panini stands being wrecked. Well, not quite. It was a bit like a scene from Allo Allo. I think the coppers were a bit more agitated with me taking a couple of pics of them.
Fun over, I made my way over to the ground, which felt a bit like Milan’s equivalent of Dagenham. It’s supposedly full of prostitutes and transvestites – I will not make comments about the area reflecting the AC Milan boardroom. And when I got to the ground, I did get to see some good old Italian style aggro after all. Well, it looked like five guys had taken exception to something another guy said, and basically started chasing after him. It’s what is described as a “skirmish”, although if it happened at AFCW various guestbooks would be heaving with the incident for five days. Italians take their football seriously, we all know that. But they take their rivalries a bit intensely as well…
Bit different to those AFCW/FCUM scarves you see about.
The usual ticket collecting happened, though for the first time ever I had to show ID. There were quite a few touts about as you would expect, but for some reason they were offering tickets for face value. Obviously selling stubs at the right price was too much for a couple of them, who had a massive barney right by the ticket collection booth. The biggest irony of this was that two booths away, you could walk up to AC Milan themselves, pay your â‚¬28 and get practically the same seat.
I also noticed the amount of non-Italians about. There were quite a few English, together with some Canadians. This does highlight why I’m not keen on the glamour clubs like AC, Barca etc. There’s a lot of daytripping types, not there so much for the football but to phone their friends up and squeal “I’ve been to the San Siro”. When these clubs went for the non-commital dollar, they lost something along the way. True, it’s bums on seats, but how many of them will be there if/when they’re lying 14th and playing youth teamers instead of Kaka? I think I should have seen the warning signs before I left, when the Milan website told me I could listen to the game on the internet in English….
Anyway, all was going swimmingly until I encountered a problem. I looked at my biglietto, and noticed my entrance number. Basically, it was the same turnstiles as where all the local coppers were gathered – police vans, riot shields etc. I’m not that iffy, am I? Actually no. My ticket said I had to go in the AS Roma end. Surely this couldn’t be right? I’d bought my ticket legitimately through AC Milan, and I don’t quite think they wanted a cleaning bill afterwards.
As I was starting to have one or two thoughts of “keep your mouth shut when you get in”, la polizia suddenly called to arms. Yes, the Roma Ultras had arrived to cause mayhem and destruction in a way only matched by the Praetorian Guard. Well, almost. There was some singing and there were literally hundreds of them. But all in all, it boringly passed off without incident. Even the two guys behind me from the Shamrock Rovers Ultras group (I am not making this up) seemed a little bit non-plused.
I took a deep breath and followed them in (the Roma fans, not Scumrock). Except the copper stopped me. No, he wasn’t fearing a sneak attack from behind, he merely pointed out that I was heading in the wrong turnstiles and needed to go to the next one. Basically, I was in the AC Milan end after all. I felt some relief, and no doubt my washing machine felt the same as well.
When I got in, I noticed some spiral ramp, which you can see on the first picture. Basically, it’s where the Roma fans walk up to get to the third tier. It’s all meshed off, which is not particularly surprising, as the Roma fans were about to prove. Basically, they tried to rip the mesh off and jump down to fight anyone below. Though they did wait to get into the ground before giving it some. Hmm. That said, anyone who thinks our brave lot who allegedly carry knives are hard, just plonk them inside one of the Curvas at an Italian ground. They’ll be sliced apart, put on a spit roast, cooked for 15 minutes and served with some cold meats, mushroom ravioli and some fine vino della casa. Also heard were quite a few monkey chants aimed at the black stewards….
With regards the racism bit, I believe Lazio fans are worse BTW. For those who don’t know, Roma have a sizeable Jewish following. The more indiginous Lazio fans once greeted them with a banner saying something like “Auszwich is your home, the gas chambers are your beds”. Spurz v Lazio in the UEFA cup next season should be interesting.
Mind you, I shouldn’t have been surprised at any of this, as Roma fans do have a reputation. According to this anyway. Having seen them close up, I wouldn’t put it past the Roma fans to go swashbucking again given half the chance.
In true cliche style, I savoured the pre-match atmosphere. As is obligatory when you’re talking about the San Siro, it really is genuinely breathtaking. It holds something like 85000 and if you’ve never seen it before in the flesh, the size will immediately take you away. I’m not sure if the photos I’ve taken do it justice.
I sat down on the bucket seat, which had some sort of rectangular piece of red PVC on it. If you’ve ever wanted to know how those montages before games are done, that’s how. It’s quite impressive to see but you do feel a bit of a Sucker AM watching prick if you actually do. I politely kept my hands in my pocket.
Before proceedings started, we got to wave goodbye to two people. Usually in these situations, it’s some stalwart of 40 years or a tea lady. Instead, we got to say arrivederci to some bloke called Jaap Stam. Yup, the ex-Man United drug test failing centre-back, who was leaving to go back to Holland. Out he came, with his arm in a sling, and waved to everyone (with his functioning arm, obviously). And people did genuinely seem upset to see him go, fans and players. Also announced was Shevchenko, though the response seemed a little more muted….
It’s quite a weird experience hearing the teams read out and realising just how many big players you recognise. Kaka, Seedorf, Nesta, Gattuso, Totti etc etc. I suppose if you follow somebody like Milan week in, week out, you probably become quite blase about these sort of names playing for you.
What’s weirder was when the teams come out. When you’re in a crowd of 50,000 plus, in a potentially title winning contest, you don’t expect to see them come out almost unannounced. But they did (dubiously holding hands with each other). Basically, they had decided to put the Milan club song on at a rate of decibels. Yup, a specially written club anthem. And quite simply, it’s shit. It’s got that slight Italian operatic feel with vocals that could have come off a 1980s kids TV show. It was enough to drive you to tears….
Anyway, the game started, and within three minutes, some action. Somebody was fouled in the box, and lo and behold – a penalty to AC Milan. Great, I thought, a bit of action early on. So, up stepped Kaka to take it, and suddenly the whole ground went “Woooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. Cue jaw dropping on the part of your editor. I know that there are cultural differences between footballing nations, but how I didn’t mutter afterwards “You’re shit AAAAH” afterwards is a minor miracle. Perhaps that’s why Italian footballers never did so well in England, they got confused when an oppo goalie took a goal kick. Fortunately in this instance, Kaka put it away.
So, we had a bit of a game on, and who knows what would have happened had Juve gone 1-0 down. Instead, Roma got back into it and Milan sort of, well, switched off. The visitors got a free kick, and in sneaked Mexes to level up. Cue stunned silence from Milan fans, cue a fucking loud firecracker from the Roma lot….
Something else strange happened when Roma scored. In the front row was this 18 stone bloke, who got up and shook his fist in a “yeaaaah” type manner. You would therefore expect either a steward to eject them or about 10 home fans to, er, discuss the goal with him. Funnily enough, there was no reaction from anyone in the area. Being 18 stone obviously didn’t hurt him, but he was also wearing some kind of England shirt…..
The game itself then went into an odd end-of-season malaise. It was as though nothing was happening. What happened was that news got through that Juve were 1-0 up at Reggina. The season was effectively over. I think everyone was spending more time looking at the scoreboard to keep up with the other scores that were happening. We were helpfully told the score between Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden for some reason. And needless to say, there were a few giggles when Inter went 1-0 down to Cagliari. Predictably, the referee was shit. Again, as said earlier, you just can’t help wondering if a phone call had been made beforehand…
I would say that things improved, but the truth is they didn’t. The second half started about 3 minutes late, as we literally had to wait for the telly to stop showing adverts (it was live on Sky Italia). Either that or there was yet another newsflash about Juve. This wasn’t so much rossonere as rottenere. Too many final balls going astray, no real penetration. And you thought the SSC final vs Ks was bad. At least our lot do a days work beforehand. I can also see how Boro knocked out Roma in the UEFA cup (and indeed, why Roma still aren’t CL quality). And I can now say I’ve seen Totti in the flesh.
Towards the end, and in keeping with many other banners around Italy that weekend, there was some anti-Juve/Moggi comments from the Rossonere. One banner said “Wanna Marchi e Moggi la coppia di oggim“, translation obviously appreciated. There were a couple of others which I think might have been aimed at somebody high up at AC. Quite strange really, Italian fans probably have more clout than most and yet they still run into trouble with their top brass. Really makes you realise just how shittily English fans are treated by their own clubs in comparison – do a banner like that at your average Premiership ground and you’ll be banned for five years.
With about 4 minutes to go, people around me gave up, and decided to leave early to catch more Juve scandals on telly. To be honest, I was toying with the idea of an early getaway as well. The game was petering out to a draw, it was getting exceedingly hot, Juve were about to be crowned champions and all in all, a damp squib was on the cards. Suddenly, right at the death, a turn in the box, an upending and – gasp – a second penalty to Milan.
I won’t bother describing the penalty for you, as I actually filmed it. It’s a bit too sizeable to put on here, anyone who really wants to see it, drop me a line. I did manage to spare you the “Woooaaaaahhhh” bit beforehand…
Watched it? Good. OK, the title was lost, but the penalty made everyone bounce up and down, direct a suitably raised middle finger towards Torino and mutter “Fuck Juve”. At least, that’s what I think happened. It made me realise just how hated they are : whether it was because of Juve’s stature, or Moggi’s phone calls or not I don’t know. But it did put into context Berlusconi’s comments that he wanted Juve to be relegated to Serie C. Can’t imagine him when he was PM wearing an anti-Juve scarf though. Then again…
The game, and season was over. Milan had won, but had finished second. There was an air of resignation about, although it was worth noting that the fans were appreciative of the team at the end. I’ve no idea about whether the feeling was mutual, perhaps they are and I’m simply too used to the mercenaries and outright liars that British footballers seem to be.
Outside there wasn’t much trouble. The AS Roma fans were kept in, presumably until nightfall. With seemingly every single moped in Milan weaving its way through the throngs of people, it somehow made an average KM game look, well, small….
If one thing grabbed me amongst everything else, it’s this. When you go to somewhere like the San Siro, or even hang outside somewhere like the Bernabeu, you realise just how relatively small people like Man U and Arsenal are. Yeah, I know that United have a stonkingly massive turnover, but that’s down to an ability to flog loads of shirts. Strip away the merchandising bits at OT or Cashburden Grave, and you don’t really have that grand stature that AC Milan etc generate.
Still unconvinced? OK then. Arsenal have Henry (at time of writing) and yes, he could walk into any top side. But really, that’s their one world class player. People like AC are capable of fielding people like Kaka, Shevchenko etc as a matter of course. They may not win all the time, but the general record of Milan, Juve etc in Europe says it all. People like United and Arsenal (and Chelski) should be reaching semi finals almost automatically. They’re not, and aren’t likely to for a while. And would AC sign somebody like Louis Saha? I rest my case.
Now, how about a “Fuck Franchise” scarf for next season…….?